Firstly I just want to say a big thanks for everyone who joined in with the NTTVBG yesterday (follow the links), it was lovely to see the support and discussion there. I am slightly nervous about hosting in just under two weeks, how will I compete with those wonderful scones Lynne laid out for us all? Anyway I just wanted to say a big thanks before life goes back to normal for a week or so.
Back at the start of January when I made my resolutions I said that I wanted to read some things that were ‘different’ this year. I wasn’t quite expecting what I ended up reading with ‘The Secret Life of Nuns’ by Pietro Aretino. I had picked this up from the library (last year) again in part because of the cover and also because it was a Hesperus book and after Lady Into Fox I have been keen to try and read as many Hesperus Press releases as my library stocks.
I am sure I am not alone in one of my favourite pass times. Eavesdropping! You know if you are on public transport, in a café etc and you simply cannot help but listen in on a certain subject. From the blurb it sounded like the tale of a secret gossipy conversation between two women over a dilemma. Nanna, a seasoned prostitute in roam is in a quandary over her daughter Pippa’s future, should she send her to a nunnery, marry her off or make her a courtesan? For advice on it all who better to talk to than her best friend Antonia?
What I wasn’t expecting was for Nanna to then start telling Antonia of her life in a nunnery and for it to be quite so, well… provocative and explicit (if you are of a delicate mind you might not want to read on). After having read more about Pietro Aretino and his nickname ‘the scourge of princes’ maybe I should have been. I read on however and what followed is a very funny, quite rude and fairly graphic (with hilarious metaphors) tale of how Nanna survived her time after her parents sent her to live in a convent. I won’t lie I really enjoyed it as a read. Back in the 1500’s I am sure this was possibly one of the rudest things one could read (it is claimed that Aretino was the originator of European pornography, who know if this is true or not) however by today’s standards with what we see on the telly this is more a whimsical and highly witty romp. I laughed out loud about three times.
There isn’t really too much that can be said in terms of the plot as the actual tale itself only lasts for sixty five pages. I did like the way its almost written as a script with Nanna going into long monologues and Antonia chipping in every now and again which is great in terms of comic timing. It was the context of the book that did make me wonder as in 1550 writing about sex was bad enough, setting it in a holy place was quite out there. I don’t have any religious beliefs but The Converted One does and I did get frowned upon when I explained what the book was about. Each to their own I say.
The only quibble I had with this is that Nanna doesn’t tell us what happens if you become a wife or a courtesan instead. Having now looked into it the author further I find this is the first in a trilogy of books and that we still have two more of Nana’s enlightening and eye opening tales to go…
I think I will be asking for this ‘The Secret Life of Wives’ and ‘The School of Whoredom’ for my birthday in March mainly for the fact that Nanna is one of the best narrators I have read in ages. I loved her, her frankness and her humour. Possibly not a series for the faint hearted but definitely one for the open minded. Has anyone else read this or the rest of the series?